Rojas Quietly Getting The Job Done
Oct. 13, 2009
Going into the 2009 season, Kansas punter Alonso Rojas knew the Jayhawks were going to have a high-powered offense so the distances he would be punting wouldn’t be very far. When there’s an offense averaging 40.6 points and more than 500 yards of total offense per contest, it’s easy for contributions from the punter to go unnoticed.
Senior safety Darrell Stuckey, who is also on the punt team, noted the determination and confidence that Rojas comes out with every time the two trot onto the field to put the other team in bad field position.
“There’s nothing better he loves more than being backed up in the opponent’s red-zone and punting the ball 50 or 60 yards, and there’s nothing he loves better to sky kick a ball in the air and let it drop on the two-yard line,” Stuckey said of Rojas. “He loves that.”
In the game of football, playing the field position game rests on the foot and brain of the punter.
Kansas has had better field position than its opponent in four of the first five games this season, with the exception coming in the Iowa State game when the Cyclones averaged starting on their own 29 and KU averaged its 26-yard line.
“It’s a huge momentum changer when (the opponent’s) offense can go from a 40-yard field to an 80-yard field,” Rojas said. “And that’s why the punt game is one of the most important plays in football and special teams, because it’s the biggest shift of position.”
In the offseason, Rojas concentrated on his punting game within the 20-yard line and the goal line. The statistics have shown just that. On just 18 punts for the year, Rojas has landed eight punts inside the 20-yard line and has had just two touchbacks.
“It’s very important to have the ball pinned within the 20 and the goal line, because that gives the other team 80 yards to drive on you and that’s not easy,” Rojas said. “The longer the distance they have to travel, the better it is for the punt team and the team as well, especially the defense.”
As Rojas’ roommate and teammate on special teams, Stuckey has taken note of the junior punter’s production.
“This year, he has not had a lot of field to punt the ball and seems like everything has been a sky kick, but he’s doing pretty well for us and I’m pretty happy about what his production has been,” Stuckey said.
One of the only statistics to show up in the box score for a punter is average yard per punt. Rojas’ current average of 37.1 yards per punt is good for 10th in the Big 12 Conference and 85th in the NCAA, but that stat is a little deceiving to the naked eye.
Rojas has only punted eight times from his own side of the 50-yard line. In those eight attempts, Rojas averaged 42.3 yards per punt.
In Rojas’ opinion, a big average just means the ball is going far, but it may not have hang time and may just be a line drive.
“A big average is nice obviously, but it doesn’t really mean anything,” Rojas said. “What I’m actually working on is doing what the coaches are asking me to do, trying to win the field position battle, and I think the punt team has done a great job with that this year.”
Rojas could get a little help from the trip to Boulder this weekend to pad his average. Last week, Rojas spoke to former Kansas punter Kyle Tucker about the change in altitude.
“He said when he played there he felt like the ball maybe goes a little farther in the altitude, because the air is a lot more thin. We’ll see,” said Rojas. “Warm-ups will tell whether it makes a difference or not.”
One thing is for sure: Rojas won’t be worrying about how many yards his punts will traveling, but rather what he can do to pin Colorado deep in its own territory.
“We feel like the farther pinned back a team is, the harder it is for them to go down the field and it gives our defense a lot of breathing space to work with,” Rojas said. “I take a lot of pride in being able to help the defense out and knowing the defense has benefitted from something the punt team has done.”
Rojas and the Jayhawks will play at Colorado on Saturday at 6 p.m. Central time in a game televised nationally on FSN.